In July 2007, I lost a friend. Chuck, my husband's cousin, died after living 37 years with Cystic Fibrosis. It was expected, and yet it wasn't. As my husband said, we had been preparing for this our whole lives, but we still weren't ready. We knew it was coming, but we really didn't think it would actually happen.
You are never ready to lose a friend. And Chuck was a friend. A really good friend, at that. He was all the wonderful things you need in your life. And now he is gone. And we feel so old and tired. There is something about losing someone your own age. It ages you. We feel like we must look elderly, bent over under the weight of our grief. Our faces are more deeply lined, and the shadows under our eyes are darker. We are older, because you don't suffer such a loss without losing something else deep inside.
Chuck was old for a person with CF, but he was still young. He was only 37, and, dammit, that's too young to have to think about tying up loose ends and making peace with the world. And now he is gone. And the echoes of his voice haunt me from the most unlikely places. I think I see him in a crowded room, and for a split second I forget that I will never see him on this Earth again. And then I remember, and I cry. It seems like I cry a lot these days.
My friend is gone. Last year, I buried my friend. And he isn't coming back. Ever. In the hospital the day before he died, I held his hand and stroked his hair. I comforted him when he struggled to breathe. I told him that he could let go, because we would be ok. But we aren't. Now I realize I was lying, to him and to myself. I said the words that would give him peace, but I know now that I will NEVER be ok in this world if it doesn't also contain him.
I have lost people I loved before. My grandparents, a young cousin when I was a kid, and aunts and uncles. But this is somehow different. Losing Chuck makes me feel like the center of my being has been ripped out, stepped on, and put back inside of me, sideways. There was something special about Chuck, something I can't put into words. Without him I don't want Christmas, or Thanksgiving. Right now, it feels like those holidays have no right to happen. How can the months still pass, and the seasons still change, without this one person?
I guess this is just what grief feels like. And I don't like it one bit.
I wrote something for Chuck's funeral. In it, I said this:"A few years ago, Chuck and I were standing in his backyard, talking about nothing in particular. Suddenly, his face assumed a serious, earnest expression. I will never forget what he said. 'Kristi, I am going to die someday. You'll want to grieve, but I want you to rejoice for me, because I will be in the Heaven I have dreamed of my entire life.'"
But I still grieve, Chuck. I know you are in heaven, but that doesn't help me one bit. I just want you here, with us. Because your family needs you.
Chuck is gone. And all these months later, I still miss him. I still get so damned angry when I want to tell him something and I realize that he just isn't there anymore. That hardly seems possible. To think that someone so full of life, so funny, so clever and so ALIVE just isn't here. There are no words big enough to convey that.
I should finish up now with some happy little lesson learned, something that shows I have grown through my loss. I've got nothing. No lesson here, no big finale. Just a sad person who lost her friend and who sees that as something terribly unfair.